You know what I want?

A penguin.

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When she wasn’t looking

I had breakfast with a girlfriend this morning, at a place in Chelsea called The Grey Dog’s Coffee. The Grey Dog’s is the kind of snug, romantic, fairy light-strung coffeehouse where it always feels like it’s raining outside. Chet Baker, or something that wishes it was Chet Baker, plays on the sound system. All the baristas are warm and attractive, and you absolutely would love to go see their play or hear their band, if they asked you to.

My friend is about a decade younger than I am, but between her old soul and my, uh, youthful vivaciousness (persistent adolescence? excellent skin? talented hair colorist? love of Mumford & Sons? carefully selected and terribly expensive foundation garments?) we hardly ever notice. But now and then, the conversation turns to the kinds of subjects where experience counts, and I feel compelled to swallow hard and tell the truth.

This morning, we chatted our way through work, and mutual friends, and apartments — my husband and I are buying one in Brooklyn, where she and her boyfriend are thinking about moving — and finally our talk wound its way to kids. My kid, Emerson, specifically, and her upcoming ballet recital and the school where she will go to first grade in September. My girlfriend loves kids, and wants some — you know, eventually. She has all the normal fears and reservations, but tells me that spending time with me, and listening to me talk about Emerson, makes her feel better about the whole thing. That she’s impressed by how I’ve hung on to so much of myself, how I still have interests and talk about non-kid things. How I still have a life.

While she told me all this, I kept glancing over her shoulder at one of the posters hanging on the wall.

The Time Has Changed When She Wasn't Looking

It reads “the time has changed when she wasn’t looking.”

The thing is, I still have a life, but not the one I used to. I used to hang out in places like Grey Dog’s all the time. Sometimes I’d sit for hours, reading a book or writing in my journal. I’d stay up much too late, and sleep in, and buy whatever I wanted, and make sloppy mistakes, and kiss the wrong men, and none of it mattered all that much, not really. There was time, time to get it right, to correct course, and I was accountable to no one but myself. And then there was Jon, my husband, and then there was Emmy, and now everything — everything —  feels too impermanent, too fragile, too exquisitely joyous and vulnerable, all at once.

No one tells you how it’s not so much that life changes, but you change in it. Because it’s too heartbreaking to explain, and anyway, you’d never believe it if anyone tried to make you understand. She wasn’t looking for advice really, maybe just some kind of reassurance, and  I felt I owed her something real. So what I told her is that, when you have a kid, it’s the end of the time in your life when you casually sit for hours in a place where jazz plays and you imagine you can hear rain on the roof, even on a sunny spring morning. It’s the end of late nights that edge into morning in loud dark bars, the end of reading for hours on end on a snowy Sunday morning. Not because of the baby, or needing a sitter, or money, or tiredness. It’s partly that, but it’s also because the time for that is done, and now you have other things to do, new priorities, responsibilities, people to account for, people you’re accountable to.

It’s just that the time has changed, when you weren’t looking.